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Blood and Water_The Lionheart Province

  Blood & Water

  The Lionheart Province

  Book One

  Chronicles of Alburnium


  Jackie Castle

  Castle Book Creations

  Blood & Water

  Copyright 2018 by Jackie Castle

  Castle Book Creations

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission of the author.

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any similarity to actual people, organizations, and/or events is purely coincidental.

  Find out more about the author at Jackie Castle’s Story World,

  To keep updated on new releases, sign up for the Castle’s Story World Newsletter

  Or email her at: [email protected]

  Cover art created by Castle Creations

  Edited by Fix it or Nix it

  Castle’s Other Works:


  The White Road Chronicles:








  The White Road Tales Novellas




  For Young Readers

  The Sentinels Archives: Through the Portal

  For Romance Lovers

  Madison Creek Bed & Breakfast Series:

  Snow Belle

  Secretly In Love

  Raining Fools

  Sun Kisses

  Candy Lane Christmas

  The Heart Collector


  To my family who inspires me to dream big and not give up on my journey.

  And let us not grow weary while doing good,

  for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.

  Galatians 6:9 NKJV

  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;

  I have some that they may have life and have it to the full.

  John 10:10 NIV

  Table of Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Before You Go…

  Author’s Note

  About the Author

  Blood and Water

  The Lionheart Province

  Book One

  Chronicles of Alburnium

  A Fairytale Retelling loosely based on

  The Maiden Without Hands

  A Grimm’s fairytale

  Chapter One

  “I’ll return by nightfall,” Wilhelm the Miller promised his golden-haired daughter who had followed him outside. “Perhaps today I’ll be lucky and bring home a rabbit or quail for dinner, along with some choice logs people will be willing to trade for. I’ll head deeper into the Mire Woods today to places that haven’t already been scavenged by desperate hands.”

  Kardia draped a full water bag over his shoulder. She was about to warn him to not go too far when the door to their cottage slammed behind them.

  Mother sauntered out, a basket in one hand and a cloth pouch in the other. She shoved the pouch at her husband. “Don’t be foolish, Wilhelm. There are dangers in the Mire. The few scraps of wood you’re able to bring back are not worth losing you over.” She pecked a quick kiss on his whiskered cheek. “And I’ll expect you to return before dinner. Here’s some bread to tide you over. Kardia, I have a few chores for you to do while I’m gone.”

  Dadda smiled and patted his daughter’s cheek affectionately. Kardia wished he’d allow her to go with him. She was seventeen cycles now and could help if he’d allow it. But he was so protective of her, their only child, that he wouldn’t hear of her setting one shoe in the Mire woods. Wild creatures, animals—and worse—were said to take shelter in the thick forest. Rebels who’d been shunned and run out of the Province towns sought refuge in the steep hills. She’d heard the stories about bands of sorcerers living in vast caverns deep beneath the stone and dirt. She hoped they were merely entertaining tales.

  Kardia shuddered and pushed the thought from her mind. Turning to her mother, she said, “Dadda has asked me to sweep out the mill today. They’ll be gathering the winter wheat soon, and he wishes for us to be ready—”

  “Pixie fluff!” Mother clicked her tongue in disapproval. “Those who did manage to horde a few grains to grow will keep their bounty to themselves, foolish man. They will, however, likely come to me to bake their bread for them. That’s when we will reap a bit of reward for their endeavors. I gathered a good store of nuts before the squirrels snatched them all. They’ll never know the difference, and I should be able to scrape up a nice bit of flour for ourselves when they do come.”

  Dadda sighed with a bob of his woven wide-brimmed hat. “Which is why I’ll go into the woods and gather wood and hunt for game, my practical Asmita. It’s the best I can do at this time for my dear family.” He winked at Kardia, drawing a small smile from her.

  Mother was the town baker, and Dadda left her to do her work while he did his.

  Kardia loved her kind father with all her heart. While she had her mother’s trim form and graceful mannerisms, she favored Dadda’s fair colored hair and green eyes. In every way, her parents were complete opposites, in looks, actions, and temperaments.

  Dadda was a gentle giant of a man who, like her, yearned for the good days to return and held onto the thin thread of hope that someday, the winds would turn, and change would come.

  Ever since the village Prior had passed away two years ago, the town had been on the verge of poverty. Prior Johnnes had been assigned by the Regent of their province to care for the Meeting Hall and oversee the village. Johnnes had no family, and it seemed the Regent who lived far away in the capital of Rodonal had forgotten the insignificant hamlet of Goia.

  Without Prior Johnnes’ leadership, the Meeting Hall had fallen into disrepair, and people were forced to take care of their own needs to survive.

  So Dadda, who had no grain to grind in the mill, would venture daily into the wilds to provide for his family. He did so without hesitation or complaint, always saying this was only a season in their lives and eventually, things would change.

  Kardia ate up his promises, feeding her own dwindling hope. Mother huffed at their optimism. But at least, with a grain of hope, Kardia held onto the morals Dadda instilled in her: to be generous and kind, helpful when the opportunity arose, and patient with those who weren’t.

  Mother often called her foolish, as well.

  Dadda brushed a kiss on Kardia’s forehead, tickling her with his bristly beard, then kissed Mother’s cheek before he turned and headed toward the river. He would follow its course until outside of the village common, then cross over into the woods by a narrow footbridge. She used to follow him when she was younger, begging to come along until he was forced to take a switch to her for her disobedience

  She’d never disobeyed again. The discipline had broken both their hearts, as Dadda wept nearly as much as she had. From that day forward, she’d vowed to never be the reason he cried a second time.

  “Kardia,” Mother interrupted her musings, “after you’ve swept out the mill, I want you to begin furrowing the garden. I saved a few seeds from last year. Let us hope they’ll take and provide something we can put in our stews besides the bitter roots we forage in the woods.”

  “Yes, Mother. I’ll only give the mill a quick sweep. Get rid of the cobwebs, just in case someone—”

  Mother smiled and pinched her cheek. “Just in case. Yes, yes.” She started toward town to haggle for whatever pittance she could manage for a bit of oil and candles. “Oh, I forgot,” Mother slowed her steps. “The mattock’s handle cracked last time I used it. I’d meant to mention it to Wilhelm and see if he could replace it.”

  Kardia blurted without thinking, “I’ll repair it. No need to burden—”

  Mother raced to her side, snatching her arm roughly in her claw-like fingers. “Hush, stupid girl. What have I told you about bragging about your…” she whispered the last word, “talent. I’ve warned you and will whip you myself if I learn you are not following my instructions.”

  “Yes, Mother. Nobody has ever seen me do it. I promise.”

  “They won’t see anything that doesn’t happen. Leave the tool fixing to your father. We’ll work on the garden tomorrow. Together.” As Mother turned to leave, she said, “Where I can keep an eye on you.”

  Kardia watched her mother rush down the road like a hawk swooping in for the kill. Letting out a long sigh, she turned toward the mill to start her daily chores.

  What was so wrong with being able to fix things? Dadda had been pleased when her gifting appeared on her fifteenth birthday. He boasted that it came from his bloodline, the House of the White Horse. His lineage consisted of powerful Healers, Illuminates, and Sanos, like herself, who had the ability to fix things and…heal people. Though Mother forbade her from trying, even when they themselves sustained an injury. That didn’t stop her from mending her own cuts and scrapes, especially since the town Healer no longer opened his door to visitors.

  Watching the skin heal over a cut right before her eyes was simply amazing.

  But Mother insisted that she hide her talent, despite all the good she could do for people. Mr. Marlow, the blacksmith, would not have such a terrible limp now if she’d only been allowed to mend his broken leg. Perhaps people would even pay for her services if she’d only been allowed to use them.

  Instead, both of her parents agreed that it was best to keep her special quality a secret for now. Father once said that perhaps they should consider making the journey to see King Shaydon, but Mother hushed him soon as the words escaped his mouth.

  Of course, Kardia wanted to know more about this King. She’d heard tales of a ruler that lived in a grand city near the eastern coast of Alburnium. She’d wanted to know if the king was real and why would she need to go see him about her gift? And why couldn’t she use it to help people fix things? Evidently, it wasn’t a common gift. Like the elusive Illuminates, only a very few possessed such powerful talents.

  Most, like her father and mother, had more common gifts, like being able to grow things or calm animals. Prior Johnnes had a gift of being a fine leader. The herbalist Miltie could make any seed grow, and Mr. Tillus had a talent for knowing exactly how to turn those plants into concoctions that cured people.

  But Dadda often said there were a few, even from his own family line, who’d been endowed with a talent like hers.

  So many questions plagued Kardia’s mind that sometimes it was hard for her to concentrate on her work. Blowing out a long breath of relief at her mother’s retreating form, she headed for the mill house, grabbing the broom that rested against the wall of their little cottage. She’d made it from scraps of the thatch that sheltered their little stone home. Dadda hoped to someday be able to afford real wood shingles that wouldn’t drip when the heavy rains came.

  Maybe someday.

  For today, she’d tackle her chores and do her best to make sure both her parents were pleased with her when they returned home. The last thing she wanted to do was cause them more burdens than they already had.

  * * * *

  “Listen to me carefully, Grunt.” Master Fajer gazed into the glowing ball perched on the table inside their traveling wagon. Sweat dotted his bald head covered in red markings. The star within a circle was his own special mark. “You must lure the girl to the tree. I don’t care how you do it, she must remain there until I send Marlin to you.”

  The apprentice glanced up at the cardinal pecking at the pile of seeds scattered at the bottom of its cage. “Master, won’t you at least tell me what interest you have in a stupid village girl? I never took you for the type interested in unions.” He took a step backward, knowing he was overstepping the line they’d established between the two of them. Fajer the Charmer had taken him on as an apprentice because he showed real abilities with conjuring. But he was nothing more than a servant boy and Fajer was quick to remind him of this fact.

  Grunt, as he’d come to be known, had spent the last few years living with the Wizards of Lalet, but he hated their incessant rules and boring routines. After spending a few years learning what he could, he set out on his own, seeking someplace he could finally fit in.

  When Grunt first met up with the traveling sorcerer, he was repulsed over how Fajer engaged in peddling fake medicines, conjuring simple tricks to amuse crowds, and wheedling his way into the smaller towns that weren’t against such entertainments. Grunt didn’t understand why such a powerful sorcerer wasted his time with such frivolity.

  However, Fajer found Grunt interesting and offered to show him real enchantments he’d never do before the common crowd.

  “I’ll teach you how to gain more power than you have now, little grunt. You’ll only need to do as I say when I say, and we’ll get along fine,” Fajer promised.

  Grunt was willing to bide his time and see if the conjurer had anything interesting to show him. So far, he wasn’t too impressed.

  Fajer stood, glowering down at him. He wore a traveling cloak instead of the ornate robes of his order called The Brethren. Would Fajer be heading into the little hamlet today? And why did he need that silly girl to be near the dying White Healing Tree?

  “You do what I say, Grunt. I’ve told you before, that until you’re willing to be truthful with me, I’ll not offer my complete trust in you. What interest I have in that girl is my concern, not yours.”

  “Master, I’ve given you my name, I don’t know why—”

  “Bah, that is not your true name. Am I supposed to believe your parents named you after a worthless weed? Someone with your powers will have a dignified name.” He swung back his hand, but Grunt ducked out of the way, expecting the move. “I’ll never use your fake name, understand? Until you’re honest with me, you’re nothing but a grunt! Now go! Do as I say or don’t bother coming back. If this fails, I’ll beat you senseless and leave you in the woods for the vultures.”

  “Yes, Master.” He started to walk from the camp, then stopped, thinking he needed something that might gain the girl’s interest. She might not be willing to talk to a stranger.

  While Fajer put away the seeing-globe, Grunt went to his sleeping cot and lifted the straw matt to reveal a narrow storage space where he kept trinkets and other things he’d found during their travels. Taking out a small mandolin with a broken string, he tucked the instrument under his belt and hurried outside before Master accused him of loitering.

  From what he’d gathered from Fajer’s mutterings as he watched the Miller family, the girl liked music and was good at fixing things.

  Grunt took off at a jog, following the narrow trail through the woods. He followed the sound of rushing water. There should be a bridge somewhere that he could cross to get into the village. He’d need to be careful and try
to avoid being seen. He liked staying in the shadows and keeping a low profile, always fearing he’d be recognized and taken back to the Light King in Aloblase.

  No, he’d kicked the dust of that city off his feet and vowed never to return unless he had a powerful army behind him ready to take over Aloblase. Someday, he would find a way to make that happen.

  For now, he’d follow any wizard willing to take him on. He’d learn everything there was to learn and explore the reaches of his powers. Fajer promised to show him ways to expand those powers. He had better keep his promise.

  When he came to the bridge, Grunt spotted a man with a wide-brimmed hat passing over. Ducking behind a thick oak, he waited for the gentleman to pass. The fellow whistled a happy tune until he reached the woods and grew quiet. From his belt, the man withdrew a long knife, took a cautious look around, then went on his way following the same footpath Grunt had used.

  Was this the prey Fajer waited for? If so, Grunt needed to hurry if he was to get the man’s daughter to the right place at the right time. His steps quickened as he rushed over the bridge, then followed the road leading to the communal area. He stayed hidden within the trees lining the narrow footpath. The mill sat right next to the water. She would either be in the house, doing chores or maybe in the mill that hadn’t turned in several months from the looks of things.

  Dust flew from the narrow doorway, pushed out by a broom clutched in the hands of a beautiful maiden. Grunt paused, watching her. He’d seen images of the mill family in the all-seeing globe, but they were mere shadows of the real humans the device reflected. A device that Grunt was sure Fajer had stolen from a Curian.

  His master insisted it was a gift, but he knew better. Curians didn’t offer gifts to anyone outside of their clan. More than likely, his master had slit the unsuspecting Curian’s throat and stolen what he could off his dead body.

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